Stop motion mass destruction.
Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory line has licensed from MGM and released
to Blu-ray ROBOCOP 2, a special collector’s edition of the 1990 Orion
Pictures sequel to the original 1987 surprise hit, written by Frank Miller and
Walon Green, directed by Irvin Kershner, and starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen,
Daniel O’Herlihy, Tom Noonan, Gabriel Damon, Belinda Bauer, Robert Do’Qui,
Felton Perry, Galyn Gorg, Willard Pugh, and Stephen Lee. Under-performing with
critics and audiences in the summer of 1990, Orion’s expensive, sort-of
rushed sequel to their original tin cop hit didn’t help that soon-to-be-bankrupt
studio’s bottom line, but fans of the ROBOCOP franchise can find a lot
of sleek, glossy, sick cartoony fun here. Shout! has outdone themselves again,
turbo-charging a seemingly marginal title with a brand new 2k scan of ROBOCOP
2’s interpositive, along with a slew of new bonus features, including
two commentary tracks, and quite a few docs and interviews with various cast
and crew members.
Believe it or not, Detroit seems to be having problems governing itself. So OCP, the mega-conglomerate that previously privatized the Detroit police force, is going to go one step further: its CEO, “the Old Man” (Daniel O’Herlihy, INVASION U.S.A., HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH), is going to take the entire city private. How? Well...he’ll cut benefits and pensions for the cops with the sure knowledge they’ll strike. Then, when crime goes through the roof, business suffers, and the city defaults on their OCP payments...which are already severely delinquent. Result? OCP owns Detroit, and they’ll raise the central city neighborhoods to build a shiny skyscrapered megalopolis, policed by new robocop cyborgs that can be mass-produced. So where does that leave the original cyborg Robocop (Peter Weller, THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION, LEVIATHAN)? Well...OCP is perturbed, to say the least, at Robocop’s re-emerging “humanity,” if you will, in the form of Robo stalking his ex-wife. OCP deems Robo a machine, not a human, and he’ll perform as such or get re-programmed. Robo and partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen, CARRIE, DRESSED TO KILL) have their hands full trying to track down cult drug dealer Cain (Tom Noonan, MANHUNTER, LAST ACTION HERO) whose poison “Nuke” is devastating the city populace, and whose grade school accomplice, stone cold killer Hob (Gabriel Damon, TEQUILA SUNRISE, IRON MAZE), isn’t above wasting whomever gets in his tiny way. Unfortunately for OCP, their new cyborg robocops waste themselves as soon as they’re unleashed from the lab—suicide being a preferable alternative to being trapped alive inside a machine—so uppity Dr. Juliette Faxx (Belinda Bauer, WINTER KILLS, POISON IVY II: LILY) decides a more highly motivated individual is needed to get the new prototypes off the ground: Cain. At the same time, Robocop is reprogrammed to be a walking P.C. advertisement for “Can’t we all just get along”-ism. When Mayor Kuzak (Willard Pugh) makes a deal with Hob to pay off their OCP debts, the Old Man sends Robo-Cain to kill the deal—literally, with only the mayor escaping with his life. When Robo-Cain, jonesing for some “Nuke,” turns on his makers, only Robocop can stop him.
Well...it sure the hell beat watching crap like ANOTHER 48 HRS, DAYS OF THUNDER, GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH, BIRD ON A WIRE, or god forbid, GHOST or PRETTY WOMAN. When I saw ROBOCOP 2 at the theaters that summer of 1990, at the time I didn’t think it matched the original...but it was way more fun than most of the other titles out that unremarkable summer (only bright comedies QUICK CHANGE and THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE come readily to mind for recommended repeat viewing). Prissy, self-righteous critics mostly despised ROBOCOP 2 for its unrelenting violence and the use of a child actor as a killer (who cares), while not enough people showed up to justify its inflated budget (no doubt due to its protracted pre-production and its “re-written every day” actual shoot). A lot of the people on this disc’s bonuses blame a rushed production...but a theatrical release a full three years after the original’s opening seems about right for a sequel (no doubt the actual nine-month schedule for director Irving Kershner’s shoot and post-production was tight, but Orion wasted the first two years waiting for directors Paul Verhoeven and RIVER’S EDGE’s Tim Hunter to eventually bail out).
There also seems to be a lot of gray area when it comes to SIN CITY’s Frank Miller’s role in his credited screenplay, with the ultimate aesthetic judgement of ROBOCOP 2 seemingly turning on what was or wasn’t filmed from his script (some contend most of his script was thrown out, other say he was there every day, re-writing. Everybody, though, appears to agree THE WILD BUNCH and SORCERER’s Walon Green’s contributions were negligible). Other than a few noticeably conservative jabs at P.C. culture that unfortunately go unexploited (not surprising, considering the movie’s schizo messaging), I’m not enough of a Miller scholar to hash out where ROBOCOP 2 stands within his oeuvre...nor am I particularly interested in doing so, either. Despite earnest pleas to the contrary by the director and the cast and anybody else who wants to look like they’re doing something “important” amid all the blood and bullets, ROBOCOP 2’s reason to exist isn’t to make us think, but rather to thrill us and make us laugh...which it does reasonably well.
No question: with a little more care and perhaps a few more months to hash out a screenplay that wasn’t being tinkered with on a daily basis, ROBOCOP 2 might have had a more cohesive feel in terms of story. Like many sequels, ROBOCOP 2 can’t summon up a plausible reason to exist, other than to recycle thematic elements from the original outing—a process that inevitably feels less imperative. The first ROBOCOP’s revenge element, along with Robo’s conflict at being reduced to a machine, are here again, but they’re clunkily copied (I still don’t get the wife subplot. They say she’s going to sue the city if Robo keeps coming around...but then she’s crying and searching his face to see if he’s human?). The OCP villains are back, with a supposedly nefarious plot to “own” Detroit (I live near Detroit: believe me, those poor besieged residents would love to have an OCP straighten out that hellhole). However, any so-called “Reagan era bashing” in ROBOCOP 2 is even more facile and puerile than in the first outing (there’s nothing more amusing than getting a lecture on how soulless and powerful and downright criminal and lethal corporations are, and how they’re ruining the country...from a bunch of elitist Hollywood liberals who happily cash corporation checks worth more money than you and I will ever see). Most importantly, we don’t buy Robocop’s immediate adversary, Cain, either, whose vague, inconclusive character was watered down from the original script, and who now operates merely as an excuse for someone to bash Robocop at the movie’s finale (casting here didn’t help, either. Seriously: who in the world would be frightened of overrated big goofus Noonan? The kid was scarier...).
Much better to enjoy ROBOCOP 2 as a sleek tongue-in-cheek smash ‘em up, with tons of explosions, a few funny scenes and one-liners, and some remarkable old school stop motion animation. Shot in a bright, candy-colored comic strip style by cinematographer Mark Irwin (SCANNERS, THE FLY), ROBOCOP 2 works best when it plays like an pleased-with-itself sick cartoon. From that funny opening sequence, where one criminal after another brutalizes the previous one, to the commercial for the sales rep who commits suicide for losing an important account, to the suicidal Robocop 2s who immediately go insane when brought online, ROBOCOP 2 has plenty of laugh out loud moments (the standout has to be the Little League robbers—particularly that murderous little girl who keeps bashing the store owner with a baseball bat as he mistimes protecting his body—a socko so-sick-it’s-funny moment).
Director Irvin Kershner has a spotty track record when it comes to franchises, besting original STAR WARS with the superlative THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but stumbling badly with iconic “Bondmania” THUNDERBALL’s anemic re-hash, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. Here, Kershner may not have cottoned to all the actors (Nancy Allen stated flatly that she hated Kershner—not a surprise when you realize she’s all but invisible in the final cut), but he handles the action scenes with workmanlike competence and even a flash of comedic inspiration now and then. Robocop’s dismembering (some giddy laughs as the villains try to figure out how to crack him open like a stubborn lobster), Cain’s Grand Guignol brain surgery (with that spinal column and eyes that looks suspiciously similar to a prop in an old WONDER WOMAN TV episode...), and all the spectacular shoot-out scenes and chases, Kershner displays a nice understanding of how to bring a nasty comic book to life (when Robocop is driven into a telephone pole, and the sound drops out completely so we can hear a perfectly timed Looney Tunes “BONG!”, the effect is giggly fun).
Weller, terrific again in a seemingly impossible situation (comedy, sure...but how the hell do you evoke believable sympathy encased in that costume?) has quite a few effective scenes, including that first briefing with OCP lawyers (all he’s doing is staring at them, but you get an intense mix of conflicting feelings), as well as his amusing line readings for his politically correct reprogramming shtick (the most ironic aspect of this scene is that 25+ years later, locked down tight liberal Hollywood would never commit heresy and make fun of itself that way now). Best of all, ROBOCOP 2’s fond farewell to classic analog stop motion animation is a visual treat for fans of classic movie trickery. With a marquee name team supervised by Phil Tippett (DRAGONSLAYER, HOWARD THE DUCK), the stop motion scenes may feel primitive to viewers brought up on digital, but to these old eyes, the solidity of those models, no matter their actual size, gives the effects a physical weight that the best CGI still can’t deliver. The mix with the live action is flawless, while the animation itself is super-smooth...and funny as hell during the free-for-all melee at ROBOCOP 2’s ridiculously over-the-top finale (O’Herlihy, effortlessly getting laughs with his amusingly arch and competent super-villain, delivers one of the most hysterical one-liners in action movie history, when he bellows like an outraged father, “BEHAVE YOURSELVES!” at the battling cyborgs). A tour de force in stop motion animation, in a compromised but still entertaining actioner.
Shout!’s 2k scan, 1080p HD 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer for ROBOCOP 2 is a wowzer. Fine image detail is impressive (for instance, you can finally see the various layers of colored lacquer applied to the Robo’s suit); color values are strong; and grain is super-tight and filmic. Depth of image is fairly striking, too (there’s a remarkable shot of Robo against the blue Houston skyline that looks 3D). No imperfections, and compression issues are non-existent (I’m convinced that some franchise fans who dislike this title will look at it in a different light, thanks to this stellar transfer). The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is equally striking, with an expansive, explosive soundscape that features some notable separation effects. Base effects are awesome during those explosions, and the Gatling gun blasts induce delighted giggles (this beats the hell out of my big screen memories of the movie, which probably featured the 2.0 version that’s available here, as well). English subtitles are included.
Bonuses include two commentary tracks. First up is CG supervisor Paul M. Sammon, who worked on ROBOCOP 2 (sounds like mostly publicity, along with videotaping a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff). Sammon has a lot of good info on the movie, but he runs off at the mouth, and drops stories midway through, only to pick them up again and again. Dumb stuff comes out, too, like lame-brained jabs at Republicans (dude...you still think there’s a difference?), but the biggest problem seems to be that Sammon doesn’t particularly like ROBOCOP 2, deeming it too mean-spirited and not all that funny (so...why have a commentator that doesn’t like the movie?). Much better are the three English guys—Gary Smart, Chris Griffiths, and Eastwood Allen—responsible for a new documentary on the franchise (ROBODOC). I couldn’t understand half of what they were saying (it’s probably wrong...but are those Geordie accents?), but these are unabashed fans of the movie. Their enthusiasm for ROBOCOP 2 is infectious, and they’re a lot of fun to listen to—more commentaries like these, and less of ones like Sammon’s (best line from the Geordies? “My mum loves Johnson.” Priceless.).
Next up, a new doc, "Corporate Wars: The Making of Robocop 2" (32:04) starts off on a shaky note, as host Paul M. Sammon gives us his resume, but luckily, new interviews with Phil Tippett, Nancy Allen, Tom Noonan, Galyn Gorg, Mark Irwin, and Patrick Crowley (along with vintage footage of Kershner) parse out a fairly detailed account of ROBOCOP 2’s frantic production. "Machine Parts: The FX of Robocop 2" (31:36) features Tippett, Peter Kuran, Craig Hayes, Don Waller, Jim Aupperle, Justin Kohn, Paul Gentry, Kirk Thatcher, and Randal Dutra explaining the rushed effects for the movie (there's a really clear, concise discussion of the mating of stop motion and the photo backgrounds, and how they kept it from looking dupey, via VistaVision. Excellent). "Robo-Fabricator" (8:47), has James Belohovek discussing his work on streamlining the new Robo suit. "OCP Declassified" (45:42) contains vintage on-set video interviews with cast and crew, including Kershner, Weller, and O'Herlihy (Sammon asks the dumb questions). Footage of later cut scenes are included. Next, "Adapting Frank Miller's Robocop 2" (5:55) has comic book writer Steven Grant not saying much at all, really, concerning Miller's involvement with the movie (a really pointless bonus, with Grant's smug attitude not helping matters). An original trailer (1:56), teasers (1:54), TV spots (1:04), and deleted scenes and still galleries round out the extras. (Paul Mavis)
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